10 Simple Steps to a Successful Office Party

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Make sure your office party is a success for everyone, before and after the event… Decking the halls with boughs of holly for the office party is all very well. But after the event, employers can find it’s not always the season to be jolly. As an employer you need to be aware of the potential pitfalls of the annual festive bash. Otherwise you can find yourself facing a number of different grievances and costly claims from employees. However, you don’t have to be a party pooper to keep on the right side of the law. Staying informed, taking good advice and putting in place some simple precautionary measures should stand you in good stead – and it means that everyone can have a safe and enjoyable celebration.
  1. Remember that your Christmas party is a work activity As the employer, you are responsible for the safety and the actions of your staff at your Christmas party – just like with any other business activity. This applies whether you’re having a full-scale sit-down dinner or simply spending an evening at the local 10-pin bowling alley. A ‘works do’ is part of work life, and the same principles apply when it comes to looking after your staff.
  2. Make sure food and drink is safe and appropriate? If you’re providing your own food, make sure it’s stored properly before the event and that it presents no risk to health. And whether or not you’re doing your own catering, be sensitive to different religious codes, including those surrounding alcohol. If you’re serving certain meats as part of a buffet (e.g. pork), make sure it’s kept away from other food. Make sure you have a choice of food and drink, so that everyone feels comfortable, valued and respected. There’ll be less chance of anyone feeling offended.
  3. Set boundaries At an event where people can let their hair down, people can also be tempted to let their behaviour slide too. It’s mostly harmless fun but when other employees find themselves coerced into things they’re uncomfortable with, whether it’s drinking or over-familiarity, that’s when the problems can start. It’s how you manage the event that makes the difference. Set out some clear guidelines and make sure everyone is aware of them before the event. Make sure employees know at the outset that they’re accountable for their own behaviour and that they should act at all times as they would at work. This doesn’t have to be a dampening exercise; instead it’s a gentle way of getting people to commit to making the event a success for the whole company.
  4. Be careful what you promise? A couple of drinks and an informal chat with an employee at a party can easily lead to you promising things you didn’t really mean. It could be a new budget for a particular project or a hint at a promotion up the ladder. You may not intend to create something legally binding over a glass of wine but the employee could certainly understand it that way and call you to account in later weeks and months.
  5. Make sure you take an ‘inclusive’ approach? As in everyday life, discrimination (whether intended or not) on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender, disability, religion or other strongly-held beliefs is a definite no-no. If you allow employees to bring partners to the annual party, you must include same-sex partners. If you use an outside venue, make sure the building – and the dance floor – is accessible to wheelchair users. If you hire entertainment, be sure that it will not cause offence to members of your staff. It’s details like these that can save or sink your reputation as an employer.
  6. Have an observer Choose one of your managers to act as a discreet ‘nanny’. If they observe someone drinking in excess or beginning to harass other staff, the observer can have a quiet word and remind that person of their responsibility to the company and to their fellow employees. It’s far better to do that than have a raft of complaints from disgruntled employees when you get back to the office. And most staff will respect your intervention in this way.
  7. Be fair with the logistics Choose a venue that matches the kind of atmosphere you want to create – and one that is conducive to the flow of the evening and the interaction you want. Take into account how far and wide people live in relation to the venue. If budgets permit, you could organise transport and/or accommodation as a goodwill gesture and to reduce the temptation for people to drink and drive. Also, issue staff with details of taxi companies and self-funded accommodation options. You could also make sure your event ends before public transport stops. Also, if you’re arranging an evening event, give people enough time to unwind and change clothes after work; it’ll make a positive difference to the spirit of the evening.
  8. Delve into the detail? If you’re having a party at your own office premises, spend some time making the space party-safe. It usually only needs a few simple steps. Remove floor hazards that could trip people up; make it difficult for people to put their drinks on top of office equipment; plan carefully where to put your tree so as not to obstruct exits or risk injury if it topples over. And make sure people don’t stand on swivel chairs when they’re putting up the decorations!
  9. Show that you do not condone heavy drinking? Act wisely when it comes to alcohol. Never allow under-18s to drink, and always consider the safety of employees who may not be fully sober the following day, especially if they drive or operate machinery as part of their job. Also, beware of the pitfalls of the free bar! Limit the number of drinks you provide and warn staff to take it easy. An employer may be held responsible for drink-related disasters. For example, three employees from a well-known company, who were involved in an alcohol-induced fight, subsequently won their claim for unfair dismissal because the employer had provided the alcohol.
  10. And finally… enjoy the event!? Common sense strategies can save you a lot of money and hassle, both at the event itself and afterwards. And once they’re in place, you’ll be on course for a party to remember – for all the right reasons! Plus, you’ll have less absence and conflict in the days and weeks that follow.

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